CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s one thing to have a great nickname. It’s another to give great nicknames.
So when ESPN.com asked NFL Nation reporters to come up with the best nickname on the team they cover, it was a slam dunk that the honor for the Carolina Panthers went to quarterback Cam Newton, the self-proclaimed “Sensei of Nicknames.”
Newton made his title known partly out of necessity in 2014 when apologizing for referring to then-Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as “Donkey Kong Suh.”
“If anything, I was trying to say it as a compliment of him for wreaking havoc,” Newton said at the time. “Me going forward, I should have called him ‘Wreck-it Ralph.'”
It was during this apology that Newton said, “I just call myself the ‘Sensei of Nicknames.'”
He then rattled off a dozen or more from that Carolina team. Then-fullback Mike Tolbert had more nicknames — Tub of Goo, Tub of Mayonnaise, Plate of Paste, Chunky Soup, Toldozer, Fat Boy, Bowling Ball — than anybody because of his 5-foot-9, 250-pound physique.
Tolbert wasn’t offended. Carolina players just roll with whatever nickname Newton gives them.
“Cam’s weird. A good weird, though,” defensive end Mario Addison said. “He’s given me so many nicknames, I don’t know which one he really calls me by. He’ll say Rio, Super Mario — everything. Cam, man, I guess it’s what he’s feeling like that day which one you’re going to get.”
Newton gave himself the nickname “Ace Boogie” when he initially came into the league. He also considers himself the “Sensei of Swag,” for obvious reasons, if you’ve seen his sometimes out-there wardrobe.
Center Ryan Kalil said the nicknames show “what an incredible mind he has.
“I couldn’t come up with half the things he comes up with,” Kalil said. “A lot of them are more clever than people realize. There are a lot of them that are inside jokes that can’t leave the locker room that are really funny.
“He’s sharp that way. His mind goes 100 miles an hour.”
Not all nicknames are public knowledge. Kalil’s is one of them.
“He says it a lot to me,” Kalil said. “But it’s a quarterback-center bond thing. I can’t break that trust and tell you what it is.”
Garrett Gilbert, the front-runner to be Newton’s backup, is amazed by the depth of some of Newton’s nicknames.
“Depth is a good word,” he said. “They are extremely creative. Sometimes they take a while to craft. Sometimes it hits him the first day when a player comes on the field. But they are definitely, without a doubt, very creative.”
Gilbert’s nickname is a prime example, although Newton gets an assist from wide receiver Brenton Bersin on this one. Gilbert is called Glanch, after Matt Blanchard, who was on the Carolina practice squad in 2013-14.
“Cam heard it and took off with it,” Gilbert said.
Most of the nicknames Newton comes up with on his own. Some are obvious. Some not so much.
He dubbed former defensive coordinator Steve Wilks “Denzel” because the now-Arizona Cardinals coach reminded him of the actor Denzel Washington. He called former Carolina wide receiver Willie Snead (now with the Ravens) “Honeycomb” because of the blond-dyed tips to his hair that reminded him of the cereal.
Cam’s best creations
Many new nicknames are sure to come from the current roster during training camp, which begins on July 26. Here are some that are already out there:
Bud Light (WR Damiere Byrd): The Panthers had two players named Byrd on the roster in 2016, so Newton labeled Damiere “Bud Light” because he’s 5-foot-9 as opposed to the 6-4 LaRon Byrd.
Blistex (TE Chris Manhertz): Manhertz made the mistake of telling Newton he gets blisters on his feet in practice.
Bucky (OL Tyler Larsen): You have to dig deep to figure this one out. Larsen apparently reminds Newton of Bucky Larson from the comedy “Born to be a Star.”
Captain America (LB Luke Kuechly): The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is the All-American do-good super hero for the Panthers.
C-Mac (RB Christian McCaffrey): No explanation needed.
Clutchery (WR assistant coach Jericho Cotchery): Cotchery was Newton’s clutch receiver during the Panthers’ 2015 run to Super Bowl 50.
Frazier (DE Julius Peppers): This is after former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, whose punch was as lethal as the hits the future Hall of Famer Peppers makes on quarterbacks.
Fun or Fun-Fun (WR Devin Funchess): Funchess always is smiling and likes to have fun, so this one is self-explanatory.
KK (DT Kawann Short): Not so much a Newton original since everyone calls Short this.
Lil Cap (CB Captain Munnerlyn): At 5-9, Munnerlyn is one of the smallest players on the team.
Mayor of Charlotte (LB Thomas Davis): The then-real mayor of Charlotte gave Davis the key to the city in 2015 for his leadership role in the community.
Major James (CB James Bradberry): Something to do with Bradberry being bald. Deep.
Old School (SS Mike Adams): He is old (37) in NFL years. He also likes to listen to what Newton would call old-school music.
Super Mario (Mario Addison): Again, no real explanation needed for the player who has been Carolina’s sack leader the past couple of seasons.